Fluker's focus now on Games

21:19, Feb 16 2014

Queenstown mountainbiker Kate Fluker hopes a breakthrough win at the national championship will boost her chances of going to the Commonwealth Games.

"It's my ultimate aim for this season. Hopefully, it comes through but we'll just have to see from these results."

Fluker, 26, headed home London Olympian and defending champion Karen Hanlen by less than a minute to take the honours in the elite women's race on a testing course at the Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua.

Fluker only took up mountainbiking five years ago when she moved to Queenstown.

With no sporting background other than riding horses when she grew up, Fluker has surprised herself with the speed she's developed at.

After beating Hanlen in two rounds of the national series, Fluker went into the championships with some confidence.


"I wanted to keep my form from my previous two races but I knew that Karen was going to come back really strong, and she did. My aim each race is to keep a consistent lap time, and I think I did that. I was hoping to win and I'm really glad I did."

With her first season competing in Europe behind her, Fluker is keen to get back there.

"Coming back to New Zealand and feeling so much stronger has given me such a good push for next season. I've got a lot more, I haven't been riding for that long and I'm hoping that I can get back overseas and start further up the field this time and better my results."

Hanlen was far from disappointed with second place, and will now reconsider retirement plans to chase a berth for Glasgow.

"For two years now I've been plagued with being unable to get on the pace in the first lap. Just this week it's been finally diagnosed that I have asthma and already with a few days' medication I felt so much better," Hanlen said.

"Good luck for Kate, she was fantastic today and deserved to win. But this has given me the boost to stay in the sport and give it everything - that means the Oceania Championships, World Cup and, hopefully, Commonwealth Games."

Meanwhile, Waikato rider Sam Gaze, 18, upset the standings to claim the elite men's title. The Te Awamutu rider outsprinted defending champion and former junior world champion Anton Cooper to claim the title in a thrilling race.

The elite men's race was expected to be dominated by super-talented young riders led by Cooper, 19, Rotorua's Dirk Peters, 22 and Gaze. Cooper, the Cannondale professional, pushed hard from the start with a withering 14min 25sec opening lap of the 5.6km circuit as the trio stretched the elastic to the rest of the field on the first of six laps.

By lap four Peters had lost touch as Cooper and Gaze pushed on, with the Te Awamutu rider, last year's Oceania junior champion, holding on and then managing to outsprint Cooper to the final corner and hold on for the victory with the pair given the same time.

"It's unbelievable. It's my first year out of under-19s and so I didn't know what to expect," Gaze said.

"As the race went on I felt stronger and could not believe I was able to match it with Anton. The result is incredible and really exciting.

"Anton and Dirk are world class riders and that helps get the best out of me. This has given me real confidence now for my first big campaign on to the World Cup and I really want to push for a spot in the Commonwealth Games team."

Meanwhile, Queenstown-based professional George Brannigan surprised himself in claiming his first national downhill mountainbike title in Rotorua yesterday.

Lower Hutt's Sarah Atkin took out the women's honours, with both riders earning their first national elite titles at the championships, which is part of the 10-day Rotorua Bike Festival that features a plethora of events including mountainbike, BMX and road cycling.

The elite field had to wait for more than an hour after three crashes in the under-19 competition forced delays on the famed Taniwha national track in the downhill contest.

The 21 year old Brannigan (Trek Factory Team) thought an indifferent start over the technical part of the track would prove costly, but his 3:01:40 was the fastest of the day, with the final rider, Lapierre International rider Sam Blenkinsop unable to pip the time.

"We were waiting for so long, the mind was not ready for it. I didn't ride the top section well but then got into it. So I was surprised to go faster than my seeding but that is pretty cool. I am really happy. I wanted to win this and so I am really pleased with that." 

The Southland Times